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You are in: Berkshire > Blast > London's Last Olympics

The opening ceremony in London 1948

The opening ceremony at London 1948

London's Last Olympics

BBC Berkshire chatted to author and speaker Janie Hampton, ahead of her appearance at the Henley Literary Festival, to find out why London 1948 was so unusual and how London's post-war make-do-and-mend games saved the Olympics...

Henley Literary Festival | 19.09.08 - 21.09.08 | Henley-on-Thames

Her mother still writes books at the age of 93 and her sister is in the same industry. Janie Hampton was born a writer.

As London 2012 comes into view, Janie's new book, The Austerity Olympics, takes a fascinating look in to London's last Olympics.

Janie will be talking about her book at the Henley Literary Festival. More details here:

"I wanted to know what had happened the last time the Olympics came to London and it turned out to be an absolutely fascinating story," the author explains.

"I started literally the day that London won the bid and it took nearly three years."

110m hurdles at the London 1948 Olympics.

110m hurdles at the London 1948 Olympics

So why were the London 1948 games so significant?

"The 1936 Berlin Olympics were the previous games to be held," she says. "The Nazis had taken it over and rather besmirched the whole ideal.

"I think that London 1948 rescued the Olympic games".

As the first major celebration since the war, the games had to be on a budget.

"London was still suffering from rationing. On the face of it you would have thought we couldn't have afforded to host the Olympics.

She adds: "Actually, the infrastructure left over from the war enabled classrooms to be turned in to bedrooms overnight and the ministry of supplies could provide 500 beds for the army barracks and tents where all the competitors stayed.

Author Janie Hampton

Janie Hampton

"They were very well organised. They knew how to do things on a shoestring and the competitors were grateful for what they had."

What's more, the games made a welcome break from rations for the British Olympic team.

"All the countries brought food with them. The Americans in particular brought a huge amount of food which they shared with everybody else.

"For the first time people were able to eat things like steak and oranges and have more than one egg a week.

"It really brought home to the Americans what London had been through with the Blitz."

And if you think beach volleyball is an odd category for the more recent Olympic games, London 1948 trumped this by far.

Olympic rowing at Henley in 1948

Olympic rowing at Henley in 1948

"There were medals for art, music, poetry, architecture," Janie explains. "It was a rather difficult thing to cover as the really talented people wanted to be judges instead of taking part!"

And the judges certainly were talented with the likes of Igor Stravinsky on the music medal panel.

Britain's leading poets judged the poetry, which turned out to be a very difficult job indeed.

"The poetry had to be judged it in what ever language it was submitted. So comparing an Afrikaans poem to a Finnish or Dutch one was very tricky!"

Another tricky aspect of the games back then was that you could only take part if you could squeeze it in your normal working day.

Olympic guards in 1948

Royal guards at the Olympics in 1948

"Nobody got time off from work. It really was amateur in those days and if there was any sniff that you might be getting paid for your sport you couldn't compete."

Berkshire had its own stamp on the 1948 Olympics. The cycling was held at Windsor Great Park and the rowing at Henley.

"It was in Henley that two of the three British gold medals of 1948 were won.

"Henley was very important as for the first time there was canoeing as well as rowing and sculling."

Janie will be discussing her book at the Henley Literary Festival as well as bringing along an array of 1948 Olympic memorabilia.

For more information on Janie Hampton:

For more information on the Henley Literary Festival:

last updated: 04/09/2008 at 23:47
created: 04/09/2008

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